David French is an abstract artist on a mission to redefine Southern art in Charleston. His latest exhibition, Living Inside Color, opens at Trager Contemporary Gallery this Friday. It puts a great emphasis on one of French’s favorite subjects: color.
French draws inspiration from the look and feel of the Charleston area, rather than picking out specific subjects. “The atmosphere, landscape, seashore, and local culture all come to play in this body of work,” he explains. “I’m influenced by living near the water: light reflecting off the water, the water surface, the rippling of waves. That pattern and rhythm has been totally infused into my work.”
French’s love of local colors led him to research the history of the South’s most famous color: indigo. “[In Charleston] I was struck by the history of art and the history of pigment and color. In this location it was a very significant industrial item and such a big part of our life today.” French himself makes pigments and says he was awakened by the color when he moved to Charleston and learned its history.
“The atmosphere — the pinks and colors and lights on the surface of the water, the color of the sunset, the colors are amazing to me. I’ve visited some of the gardens [in Charleston] and they are just gorgeous, they’re like Monet. It’s quite beautiful, what’s happening around here.”
The colors in French’s paintings have even gone as far as to inspire the bartenders at Trager Gallery’s neighbor, Felix Cocktails et Cuisine, who will be featuring a French 75 cocktail at Felix the day of the reception. “This is the second cocktail they have made for me,” says French. “The other is ‘La Frenchie’ which is inspired by one of my pink-ish paintings in the gallery called ‘Pomegranate Molasses.'”
On a deeper level, French has a strong desire to set his abstract work apart from others. “I’m looking back in time and reinvesting in previous artistic movements such as minimalism. I’m looking through the current lens of postmodernism, addressing their arguments that help to end that form that I’m investing in.”
Part of this philosophy involves recognizing issues with past artistic movements and their leaders. “They were exclusive, heavily invested in the male ego. My work is different. It’s not based on mere taste, it has theoretical underpinnings,” says French.
“There’s lots of traditional work in [this] town and lots of abstraction in the world. I thank Kelly [of Trager Contemporary] for taking a risk and bringing in my work.” Stepping back and looking at the broader picture, French says, “paintings themselves are emotional, very physical, and unafraid. They’re bright, take in our world and location, our city, our state.”
“Most abstraction looks good, that’s not how I work,” he says. “I’ve made paintings with my eyes closed. It’s not about how I feel, I’m trying to actually isolate my ego from the making of my painting.” French invites viewers to interpret his work in their own way. “Give the authorship to the viewer,” as he says.
French’s work will be on display at Trager Contemporary through March 30 with an opening reception on Fri. March 6, 5-8 p.m. The event is free and open to the public and will feature live music, refreshments, and cocktails from Felix Cocktails et Cuisine. French will speak about his work at the reception. For French’s work, visit davidfrenchfineart.com or instagram.com/davidfrenchstudio.